OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word

OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word

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by Allan Metcalf
     
 

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It is said to be the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet, more common than an infant's first word ma or the ever-present beverage Coke. It was even the first word spoken on the moon. It is "OK"—the most ubiquitous and invisible of American expressions, one used countless times every day. Yet few of us know the hidden history of

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Overview

It is said to be the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet, more common than an infant's first word ma or the ever-present beverage Coke. It was even the first word spoken on the moon. It is "OK"—the most ubiquitous and invisible of American expressions, one used countless times every day. Yet few of us know the hidden history of OK—how it was coined, what it stood for, and the amazing extent of its influence.

Allan Metcalf, a renowned popular writer on language, here traces the evolution of America's most popular word, writing with brevity and wit, and ranging across American history with colorful portraits of the nooks and crannies in which OK survived and prospered. He describes how OK was born as a lame joke in a newspaper article in 1839—used as a supposedly humorous abbreviation for "oll korrect" (ie, "all correct")—but should have died a quick death, as most clever coinages do. But OK was swept along in a nineteenth-century fad for abbreviations, was appropriated by a presidential campaign (one of the candidates being called "Old Kinderhook"), and finally was picked up by operators of the telegraph. Over the next century and a half, it established a firm toehold in the American lexicon, and eventually became embedded in pop culture, from the "I'm OK, You're OK" of 1970's transactional analysis, to Ned Flanders' absurd "Okeley Dokeley!" Indeed, OK became emblematic of a uniquely American attitude, and is one of our most successful global exports.

"An appealing and informative history of OK."
—Washington Post Book World

"After reading Metcalf's book, it's easy to accept his claim that OK is 'America's greatest word.'"
—Erin McKean, Boston Globe

"Entertaininga treat for logophiles."
—Kirkus Reviews

"Metcalf makes you acutely aware of how ubiquitous and vital the word has become."
—Jeremy McCarter, Newsweek

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Metcalf has produced a complete and completely entertaining history of the most American of all expressions. More than 'just OK' — revelatory and engrossing."—Erin McKean, CEO of wordnik.com, author of Weird and Wonderful Words, More Weird and Wonderful Words, and former Editor-in-Chief, Oxford American Dictionaries

"Metcalf has written an appealing and informative history of OK." — Washington Post Book World

"Fun and educational!"—Language Hat

"Have a look at Professor Metcalf's book yourself. It's worth your time."—You Don't Say

"I think you'll find the yarn Metcalf spins to be far better than OK...So get this book, OK? If you love words, history, or Americana, you'll find it fascinating."—Mark Peters, Good.com

"Metcalf's entertaining linguistic history is a treat for logophiles."—Kirkus Reviews

"Engagingly written as well as thoroughly researched."— Arnold Zwicky's Blog

"Metcalf has done a remarkable job of imparting the life and times of a word that began as a joke and ended up 'the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet.' Touching on its history; its use in politics, literature, and business; its tiny stature and impressive reach; and even how it reflects culture and identity, Metcalf has written an unbelievably OK book."—PopMatters.com

"I highly recommend the book...as a nice read. This is exactly the kind of book...that people who call themselves 'language lovers' should read ... it's clear and accessible and gives non-specialists...a good picture of how to think about language history and language use. And Metcalf writes in a really easy style."—Mr. Verb

"Metcalf's book is an enjoyable addition to the shelfload of books prompting us to reconsider everyday things—from appliances to the moon overhead to the air we breathe. His book, in fact, isn't just enjoyable—that's right, it's better than OK."—Los Angeles Times

"This biography-covering the history of an oft-overlooked word-is more than 'just okay.' In fact, it's pretty darn entertaining."—Failure Magazine

"The seventeen chapters of this handy little book set forth everything about OK one could reasonably ask to know...It is an impressively worthy biography, description, and analysis of what Metcalf calls 'America's greatest word.' It is a book full of entertaining facts and intriguing suggestions about the American psyche, which the history of OK illuminates...The book is full of life, highly readable, a page-turner...It is a sterling example of what linguistic scholarship can, and should, be for the general reader." —Dictionaries

Jonathan Yardley
Metcalf has written an appealing and informative history of OK. Like others who write about language, he gets a little fey at times, and he does a great deal of quoting, some of which appears to be little more than padding aimed at making a slender book a bit less so, but the strengths of OK outweigh its weaknesses. It's not an OK book, it's a good one.
—The Washington Post

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199892532
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
04/01/2012
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.70(d)

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